El Dorado [1966)

Funny thing about Westerns…

Sometimes you seen ’em, but you done FORGET you seen ’em.

And this one is that type of affair.

Except that it’s a masterpiece.

This here film takes multiple viewings to fully appreciate the craftsmanship at work.

Because back in those heady nouvelle vague days, it seems that the Cahiers crowd were known as the Hitchcocko-Hawksians.

I may be borrowing a term from Richard Brody’s book on Godard.

But he may have been borrowing it from elsewheres.

I don’t rightly know.

But El Dorado is certainly the spitting image of another film…by the same auteur.

Yes, Rio Bravo was the first incarnation.

1959.

It’s the one that gets all the praise.

But if my eyes and heart don’t deceive me, Robert Mitchum is a better actor than Dean Martin.

[as much as I love Dino]

And James Caan bests Ricky Nelson as well.

But it’s hard to replace Walter Brennan.

Damn near impossible.

That said, Arthur Hunnicutt is pretty darn fabulous in El Dorado.

But let’s get back to those Hitchcocko-Hawksians.

The first part is probably pretty self-explanatory.

These Cahiers du cinéma film critics revered Alfred Hitchcock.

Above all else.

Hell!

Before Truffaut did his book of interviews with Hitch (1967), Chabrol had written a monograph on the master (1957).

To be more exact, Chabrol cowrote the book with Rohmer.

Might as well say Rivette (“Rivette!”) just to round out les cinq.

Like the Mighty Handful (Balakirev, Cui, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Borodin), and one short of les six (Auric, Durey, Honegger, Milhaud, Poulenc, and Tailleferre), the Cahiers crew were the Hitchcocko-Hawksians.

But what of that second seme?

Indeed, it was Howard Hawks.

The director of our film.

And an auteur which Jean-Luc Godard has gone on about at length…in a profusion of praise.

But why are we even talking about these Westerns?

What do El Dorado and Rio Bravo have in common besides diagesis and director?

Ah yes:  John Wayne!

In El Dorado, our villain is Ed Asner.

Quite rich when considering that he was one of the very few to be a true hero in America after 9/11.

That’s right.

Ed Asner was on the front lines of getting the truth.

And we never got the truth.

Not from any official source.

But that’s ok.

Because we have gathered the general gist of the situation.

And so Ed Asner’s most important performance was what he did in real life.

To try and honor those 3000 souls who perished and were draped in a lie.

But we’re in Texas.

And Texas is a lonesome land.

Inhospitable.

And we aim here to mainly talk about the examples of the silver screen.

In Technicolor.

“details…deliberately left out” says Wikipedia…

Ah yes…something David Ray Griffin spotted with his razor-sharp mind.

“Omissions and distortions”, he called it.

That is the beauty of film.

It gets deep.

It burrows.

And it fuses to what we have experienced as visceral verities.

Charlene Holt was actually from Texas.

And she is every bit the female lead here.

Charming.  Strong.  Sexy.

I won’t go comparing her to Angie Dickinson, but let’s just say that Ms. Holt fit the bill.

To a T.

T for Texas.

And Ms. Holt passed on (God rest her soul) in Tennessee.

We get horses and streams.

Rifles and pistols.

And a lot of earthy talk.

As you can tell.

Gets under your skin.

Your tongue.

Burrows.

Say, was you ever bit by a dead bee?

[Oops, wrong funnyman.  And Hemingway.]

Pound born in Idaho.  And Papa H died there.

Because the pain was too much.

Gut shot.

You can’t turn your back in these parts.

Gotta waddle out backwards.

On yer horse.

In high heels.

And keep your peripheral sharp.

Cardsharp, not shark.

Tiburon country.

Anyone missing Angie Dickinson likely ogled Michele Carey for the better part of El Dorado.

Though the appearances were brief.

John Wayne turns the other cheek.

Smears blood on the cowhide.

Get outta here.

Tough guy gets back on his horse.

Always guns in the river.

But you gotta retrieve it.

Dr. Fix (Paul Fix) isn’t up to the procedure.

Doesn’t wanna bungle a good man.

Tells him take care uh that whens you get tuh proper chirurgien.

Christopher George looks spitting Willem Dafoe.

Ping!

But the real story is Diamond Joe.

Or so.

It seems under the bridge.

Natchez.  Matches.

Jarmusch maybe…

Always.

Revenge.

Gotta git your own justice.

Around these skillet lickers.

Like the freaks from Octopussy, knife to a gunfight.

Had to saw off a holstered piece at the Swede.

Following me?

If the top is a high hat, Mississippi’s is low.

I think Tom Petty adopted one.

Mine never fit quite right.

From crown to gun butt…soft wobble with every bump.

But enough phrenology.

Only love can break your heart.  Neil Young said that.

And I know all too well.

Stuck behind an 18-wheeler from Dallas.

And the rains set in.

And Górecki just makes you cry even more.

Feels like an addiction.

And sometimes you substitute one addiction for another.

Because you got an empty place there in your ribcage.

Friendship rides in least expected.

Crusty.

Professional killer don’t have no friends.

A liability.

Can’t get too connected.

Go soft./

Stayed in Mississippi a day too long.  Bob Dylan said that.

And I think maybe he meant Robert Johnson.

When the poison of whisky ain’t enough.  I said that.

Not enough holes in the world get a rise outta me at Royal Albert.

But I’m not too worried about it.

Just modulating grammar.

Because El Dorado is filled with sine qua non dialogue.

Seeming hapex legomenon with every breath.

Latin/Greek shift.

Cipher.

A lot of soap.

Running joke.

The others’ll come to me.

Maybe.

High low, do-si-do.

My uncle died with a stack of VHS Westerns on his TV set.

That smoking’ll kill you.

Two uncles.

But only one owned a square dance barn.

So that no matter how Cahiers I get, I’ll always be from Texas.

City boy.

Country heart.

Not even aware how much of a rube I really am.

It’s a concoction you gotta pinch the nose to force down.

A medicine resembling asphalt.

Alcohol, 4 days

No punctuation.

I’m just lucky to never have done more’n cowboy tobacco.

But Texas is lonesome.

Unless you’re riding with John Bell Hood.

In which case you’re shitting yourself with fear.

Itch on the back of your neck.

But learn to play a good bugle.

Close quarters combat.

Urban warfare.

In the Wild West.

Two walk forward, two reverse.

To slap a RICO charge on a greasy bastard.

Like the goddamned Great Gate of Kiev.

And back to the five.

A gamelan of adobe marksmanship.

Distraction.

Diversion.

Deputy was just the courage.  Pin on “I do”.

We think Pecos.

Information travels.

And to have a leg up.

[no pun]

Old wounds and creaky bones.

Been knocked down too many times.

Fallen off my horse.

[shift]

We don’t negotiate with terrorists.

But do we terrorize negotiators?

Turns out the whole thing was about water.

When it’s dry.

And you gotta wake up.

And you didn’t just win the Super Bowl.

Why you can’t take a giant leap in chess.

Giant steps.

Because your plan sucks.

Just showing up is pretty damned brave.

Every day.

Fight.

[And I didn’t even get to Edith Head and Nelson Riddle]

-PD

True Grit [1969)

To get through life, you need grit.

Toughness.

I know of no tougher people than my parents.

And they have been an infinite inspiration to me.

So it is a pleasure to review what is one of my dad’s favorite films.

He always told me to watch this, but I guess I had some subliminal aversion to Westerns.

Well, dear friends, this here is a masterpiece.

I haven’t written much about Westerns (aside from the three Clint Eastwood spaghetti Westerns I reviewed long ago).

I know the genre is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Jean-Luc Godard commented once that his soulmate Anne-Marie Miéville really couldn’t stand this genre, whereas Monsieur Godard has been open about his admiration for John Ford and other directors of the American Western.

But here we have a film by Henry Hathaway.

Sure, John Wayne is in the movie (big league!), but it was Hathaway behind the camera ostensibly calling the shots.

You might know Hathaway from the film noir Call Northside 777.

Or perhaps The Desert Fox:  The Story of Rommel (starring the inimitable James Mason).

But he also directed Rawhide and The Sons of Katie Elder (another flick starring The Duke).

But let’s bring out the big gun.

John Wayne was born Marion (!) Robert Morrison in Winterset, Iowa.

That’s right.  Not Texas.  Not Oklahoma.

Iowa.

So how did John Wayne become such a badass?

Much of it might be attributable to his attention to detail.

And just what (or who) was he paying attention to?

Wyatt Earp.

That’s right.

Deputy sheriff of Tombstone, Arizona.

But let’s get on to this fantastic film, shall we?

The real surprise is Kim Darby.

Sure, Glen Campbell is great here, but Darby is sensational!

And though this might be thought of as Kim Darby’s only significant film role of her career, it is timeless.

She knocked it out of the park as Mattie Ross.

All our actors are gritty, but the real toss-up is between Kim Darby (who was 22 at the time) and John Wayne (who was 62).

Toughness is the theme of the movie.

He or she who is toughest will overcome.

Sure, some obstacles are insurmountable.

But GRIT will get you through some harrowing situations.

It’s almost funny when a film (like this one) includes minor roles for the likes of Dennis Hopper and Robert Duvall.  Duvall’s role is a bit more substantial, but the main focus is on the troika of Campbell, Darby, and Wayne (particularly the latter two).

Fans of the recent film Sicario will notice precursors to “rough justice” present all throughout True Grit.

But director Hathaway manages to make a G-rated film.

For that and other reasons, I am recommending this as a family film (though it may be unsuitable for particularly young ones).

The narrative device which keeps the film “all ages” is that Mattie is supposed to be 14 years old (though, as stated, Kim Darby [Mattie] was actually 22).

The action of our film centers around Fort Smith, Arkansas (at first) and later in the “Indian Territory” around McAlester, Oklahoma.

The film features prominently a Colt Model 1848 Percussion Army Revolver a.k.a. Colt Dragoon Revolver (.44 caliber).

Firearms aside, John Wayne is magnificent in the denouement when he takes on four armed horsemen.

That said, a Sharps rifle comes in particular handy for Wayne in a near-death imbroglio.

Glen Campbell’s greatest moment is just getting on the horse and setting the beast in motion.

It is this scene in which Campbell proves himself to be just as gritty as Darby and Wayne.

But the film is not over yet.

And we see John Wayne take action:  as a leader!

Doing what needs to be done!

But the scene which brought tears to my eyes was when John Wayne bet on the toughness of Kim Darby.

And that is the message.

What great encouragement it is when people have faith in us!

When they say, “I know you can do it!”

We may not believe it ourselves, but their faith lifts us up.

We think, “Maybe they know something I don’t.”

When we’re at our lowest point.

Those who stand beside us with compassion are displaying that priceless characteristic of true grit.

The very end of the film is quite touching as well.

We see an actor 40 years younger than her leading man offer a hand of friendship with an act of love.

It’s not even romantic.

It’s just classy.

Humane.

In truth, very poetic.

I wholeheartedly recommend this film for all doubters of John Wayne and the Western genre in general.

Yee-Haw!

-PD

The Host [2013)

Science fiction is often a metaphor…and this movie is about the national security state (whether it knows it or not).  It would be easy to fault this film for its trite trappings, but if one has reason to give the film a chance…  My reason was Saoirse Ronan.

I remember being a big fan of Thora Birch after seeing Ghost World.  [I’m still a big fan.]  The lengths to which film fans go to see their favorite players is sometimes remarkable.  My admiration went so far as to watch Dungeons & Dragons (2000).  Boy, I wish I could get those 107 minutes back!

I can’t echo the same sentiment about The Host.  This is truly a fine film.  Granted, it is a pale imitation of Hanna (2011), but I believe that Hanna will stand as one of the best films of all time.

What we do have is a dystopian “failure to communicate.”  This is essentially the problem with the national security state.  No reasonable person can seriously believe that the men and women of the CIA, NSA, and other such agencies are truly sitting around frying up babies on spits.  The problem is that the technology has far outstripped the human skills of these agencies.  For every action which is automated–every process given over to a computer…these agencies lose the war they think they are winning.

When agencies such as MI6 and Mossad no longer have popular support, their days are numbered.  The American intelligence community has failed to recognize that the war is not against “terrorists,” but rather for Americans.  “Hearts and minds” went the old phrase…  The world’s most powerful intelligence agencies are losing the human relations race almost as much as they are losing the information race.

Every once in a while there is a crack in this monolithic façade.  Not so long ago, Zbigniew Brzezinski (perhaps inadvertently) blurted out the real score of both the information and interpersonal communications races during a speech in Canada (Toronto, I believe).  It may have been a Council on Foreign Relations function, but really:  who cares?  The sentiment was echoed on the floor of Congress some years back by Hillary Clinton.  Whether explicit or not, these cracks indicate the panic of highly intelligent and heavily-invested players on the world stage.

Technology brings with it a certain uncertainty:  an undefinable amount of risk.  The same can be said of democracy.  It is no wonder that certain American Founding Fathers (Alexander Hamilton, for instance) felt ill at ease about the prospect of “government by the people.”  But this fear only shows weakness.  When power is fearful, power shows its ass.  Obverse and reverse.  We are used to seeing the obverse, but we must remember there is a man behind that wizard curtain.

Diane Kruger impressed me with her articulate acting in the National Treasure movies.  Here, she represents the sheen of the national security state.  She is like Shannon Bream on FOX News:  a neocon trophy anchor.  In truth, her character is staged in almost an identical way as that of Cate Blanchett in Hanna.  The accoutrements of power in The Host also have a ubiquitous and literal sheen in the form of mirrored-paint (chrome).  It is not far from the cheese factor of Sphere (1998).

Yet, The Host truly does have something to offer…and that is primarily due to the acting prowess of Ronan.  The major addition is the superb support of William Hurt.  In his character “Jeb” we see the dreamer mentality of American ingenuity which stretches back at least to Benjamin Franklin.  We also see in Hurt’s depiction the presence of John Wayne and other noble examples of simple morality from the American western genre of film.  What is really at issue is consequentialist morality vs. deontological morality.  Consequentialists (such as the rational aliens of our film) would argue that their ends justify their means.  Deontological circumspection (as in the case of Hurt’s character) holds that certain acts are repulsive in and of themselves (ontology) and therefore to be considered in such light.

Hurt’s character goes against the grain (Huysmans, anyone?) by refusing to kill the alien which has occupied the body of his niece.  His hunch turns out to be right:  his niece is still alive somewhere deep down inside there.  In Hurt’s character and his milieu we see the “prepper” mentality which has remained strong in America, but most of all we see the imagination to think conceptually.  Uncle Jeb is the only one to give credence to the thought which those around him spurn.  It is possible.

Much has been made about the American intelligence community’s “failure of imagination” regarding 9/11 all those many years ago, but I believe that’s rubbish.  However, the only way the U.S. will ever heal and move forward in an evolutionary way is for those “in the know” to come forward in numbers and ways heretofore unseen.  Likewise, those upset with even the most senior of the military-industrialists must be prepared to embrace the unique wisdom they have.  It is hard to talk about such things in precise terms owing to the nature of the dispute, but ultimately the powerful and the powerless need each other.

-PD